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Taser death in Canada sparks heated debate around the world

A number of countries are testing or using the stun guns – raising questions about whether their use is routine in some cases – and whether they should be banned.

By / December 3, 2007

The death of a Polish man at Vancouver International Airport has sparked an intense debate in Canada over the increasing use of Tasers by law-enforcement officials. Concerns over the use of these electric shock guns has mounted in several other countries after a UN Committee on Human Rights recently labeled their impact "torture."

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Nine investigations, including one by the Polish government, have opened into the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish national who died Oct. 14 almost immediately after he was Tasered by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RMCP) at the Vancouver International Airport, reports CanWest News Service. Polish officials said the aim of their inquiry was to verify whether Canadian police "involuntarily caused the death of a Polish citizen."

Criticism of the incident rose after a video of the incident was posted on YouTube Nov. 14, reports the New Statesman.

The clean-cut stereotype of a Mountie in a tomato-red uniform may linger internationally, but the RCMP's domestic reputation has been shaken. The officers captured on film have been removed from active duty; others replacing them at the Vancouver airport have been verbally abused and had rubbish thrown at them.
On the Saturday after the video's release, nearly 300 people arrived at the airport for a memorial service for Dziekanski.

The incident led to one senator calling for Canadian police to stop using Tasers, while police officials defended their actions, reports The Canadian Press.

Officials claim the electric shock guns, which emit up to 50,000 volts, are not the cause of death in such deadly incidents. A conference last week focused on such factors as "excited delirium," reports The Globe and Mail.

However, the key issue is excited delirium, a collection of symptoms that is quickly becoming the leading explanation offered when a person dies in police custody or after a taser is used….
Critics, who include civil-liberties groups and plaintiffs in myriad lawsuits against both Taser International and police departments, say the condition is actually a vague collection of descriptors designed to protect police officers from allegations of wrongdoing. But there are virtually no such critics at this conference….

Civil liberties activists are pointing to a report by the UN Committee Against Torture last week that called the use of Tasers "torture." The committee said it was "worried that the use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use."

The UN report provoked reaction in Australia, where Queensland police defended their trial use, reports The Brisbane Times.